12/05/2012 04:55 BST | Updated 12/05/2012 05:00 BST

Racially Profiling Rochdale Grooming Gang Allows Their Victims To Remain Forgotten

It was the story that sent a shiver down the spine of every parent; the fall out threatened to rip open a Pandora's Box of racial tension in Britain's northern towns.

Revelations that vulnerable underage girls were plied with alcohol and cigarettes before being shared by groups of Asian men as old as 59 for brutal, disturbing sex sessions, rocked Britons' sensibility.

One victim of the sexual exploitation gang in Rochdale had been so drunk she vomited over the side of the bed while two men had raped her. Another had been abused by 20 men in one night, until she couldn't remember how many men had forcibly had sex with her.

But beyond the abuse was another scandal. The victims did not remain silent - one girl broke down outside a takeaway, having aborted one of the men's babies and tried to commit suicide. She spoke out to police against her abusers.

But nothing was done.

She even provided police with underwear, stained with one 59-year-old man’s DNA, but was again ignored.

Social services were alerted when she turned up to school dirty and stinking of alcohol. It took four years from when she told authorities for those men to be convicted.

The question remains: how could this happen?

Some have cited the race of the men convicted as a reason that officers overlooked her story.

Community leaders and politicians have insisted that senior police officers stayed mute for the sake of political correctness, fearful of stoking racial tension in towns already struggling to cope with multiculturalism.

But amid the clamour the victims' voices have once again been eclipsed.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has since ordered an investigation on into the sexual exploitation of children to be accelerated, telling Sky News that he wanted recommendations "within a month" on how to ensure that children in homes are kept safe from "this sort of disgusting activity."

Among the directives is to ensure that “issues of ethnicity” are not ignored.

sex ring splash

The men were sentenced on Wednesday

But with white stepbrothers Barry Snook and Neil Moore put behind bars indefinitely for the rape of "vulnerable" teenagers on Thursday, it seems more important to examine why some young people are not being protected.

The dismissive attitudes of police as well the fundamental way cases are being investigated are among the reasons why vulnerable children are being failed, insists Mark Williams-Thomas, a child protection expert and former detective.

His disheartening explanation for why young people's statements are being ignored reflects that of the Crown Prosecution Service.

He told The Huffington Post UK that essentially “those that are most vulnerable do not make the most convincing witnesses. Many of them come from damaged backgrounds. They are not the typical white middle class children, and we don’t take them seriously.”

It is this police dependence on 'credible' girls appearing in front the jury that needs to be altered, he argues.

“We need to be putting surveillance on offenders, going out and talking to the victims and their families

"If we solely rely on young girls coming forward to provide evidence, then their exploitation will continue."

child in care

"What they did to me was evil, they ripped away my dignity, my self-esteem," one of the victims told the court on Wednesday

Williams-Thomas' damning verdict on why these girls were betrayed by the system echoes Anne Marie Carrie, the Chief Executive of Barnado's.

Blogging for The Huffington Post UK on Wednesday she wrote:

“We need to see drastic changes to make sure the abusers who control such vulnerable children for sex and personal gain are brought to book.

“I believe there are two significant reasons for such low conviction rates; cases are dropped due to insufficient evidence and the over reliance on victims to act as witnesses.”

But the care system itself can also be charged with failing the very children it is meant to protect. A report on children in care, from The Voice shows that children are leaving care homes even more vulnerable than they were before.

Those young people are six times less likely to be in higher education.

They are more than twice as likely to become pregnant as teenagers. They are also more than four times more likely to be assessed as having a mental health disorder than the general population.

Williams-Thomas told The Huffington Post UK "they are becoming victims because they are vulnerable."

He argued lack of supervision is one reason that makes them vulnerable to predators like Snook and Moore, as well as the Rochdale gang.

“Offending behaviour requires two elements: access and opportunity. They become victims because they are vulnerable. ”

“It happens when you don’t have safeguards in place.

“You have to supervise, ask questions. Why are they having their phones topped up? Why have they got cigarettes, and got money?

"I think that the key issue is that we need to properly understand why offenders are having access and opportunity to vulnerable young people: that is why offenders are able to offend.”


Children in care are becoming victims because they are vulnerable, claims William-Thomas

Two thirds of children enter care because they have been abused or neglected. It's difficult to protect damage teenagers from themselves.

Jonathan Stanley, a policy and practice consultant at the Independent Children’s Homes Association, told The Huffington Post UK that it is not merely a case of looking at the care homes themselves, but that the whole timeline of interaction that children have with social services must be considered.

"By the time children come to the children’s home there has already been an erosion of trust and of usual adult boundaries. There is no appreciation of adult authority and children’s homes have to affect changes brought on by years of routine behaviour.

Stanley suggests that unlike what people commonly think, children often prefer to live in care homes.

The can interact with other young people, and there is no fear of them feeling excluded like they are when they are fostered.

However a positive care home experience is made impossible by a lack of proper assessment when they first enter the system.

“Children commonly arrive with more five fostering placements behind them and frequently have more than 30.

"They are fed up of families, they have had placements with foster families break down and they enjoy living with other children."

However after children have been failed so badly by the system, it is difficult to mend such as “erosion of trust.” He told The Huffington Post UK:

"Residential care is not the cause, but it is the place where all the failings of the system correlate. We need to be able to intervene much earlier, and we’ll only be able to do that if we use children’s homes as a positive choice and not a last resort.”

"We shouldn’t be placing children where they have to fail in placements before we look to change them. Instead we need to do a really good social assessment so that they get the most suitable placement for them."

However paying for social workers and monitoring children’s homes are expensive. The average weekly cost of looking after a child in a care home is £2,428 compared with just £489 for foster care, according to a report in 2009.

The number of children's homes in Britain is now one of the lowest in history, Stanley asserts, and more and more the focus is turning to cost.

"The fees that local authorities want to pay for care is being driven down to unsustainable levels, and some providers of children’s homes will not be able to continue."

It's clear that the government needs to get serious about supporting vulnerable children.

As Anne Marie Carrie writes there are "thousands" of victims of child sexual exploitation failed by the system, many more than the victims of the Asian gang in Rochdale.

"They just took everything away" a victim of those men told journalists, as it was revealed she had tried to commit suicide.

There many young lives riding on the government getting it right.